Student leaders are pushing for a policy that would require UC Santa Barbara professors to place cautionary “trigger warnings” on class syllabuses containing particularly graphic content, and faculty soon could consider the idea.
In a resolution that has garnered national attention, the university’s Associated Students is asking professors to make official a policy they say many already follow — including a written forewarning that students might be exposed to graphic images or video depicting rape, sexual assault or abuse.
The suggested list also includes self-injurious behavior, suicide, graphic violence, pornography, kidnapping and depictions of gore.
The so-called “trigger warnings” are not meant to coddle students, but to prevent potential emotional — or physical — reactions to material, said Bailey Loverin, a second-year student and AS chief of staff who co-authored the resolution, which was approved last month.
The resolution urges instructors not to dock points from a student’s overall grade for being absent or leaving class to avoid the triggering content — an aspect that earned AS the ire of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.
That doesn’t mean students wouldn’t still be responsible for reading and learning the content, Loverin said, pointing out misconceptions circulating across the country.
“I was in a classroom where a professor decided to screen a film and it included several graphic assault and rape scenes,” she said. “There was no forewarning that that was going to be shown. Students who suffer from trauma can go through all sorts of things if they get triggered.”
Loverin said student veterans suffering from PTSD or rape victims could benefit, noting the resolution passed just weeks after a gang rape on campus.
The resolution states that statistics show one in four college women will be sexually assaulted during her academic career, one in four women will experience domestic violence, and one in 33 men will experience attempted or completed rape.
Warnings would apply to class work, not homework, she said, and professors could mention the triggering content however they wished, depending on the course.
Loverin said other student governments across the University of California system are considering similar policies, despite some bad press.
Faculty hopefully will decide on the issue by the end of the current academic year, said Kum-Kum Bhavnani, a sociology professor and president of the Academic Senate. Bhavnani planned to meet with the Associated Student president this week, and then discuss with the executive council, senate councils and committees before a vote.
“The Academic Senate, through its deliberations in the coming period, will decide if urging faculty to act in accordance with the resolution is an infringement on the academic freedom of faculty,” she said, saying she was unsure how faculty use warnings now. “I, personally, as a faculty member, have noticed that warnings about ‘mature’ content, and similar, are present in our everyday lives, such as in movies, in the news stories, on TV in general, in music and so on. For that reason, I see what the students are hoping for. However, it is up to the Faculty Senate, as a group, to decide if they want to urge faculty to formalize their course content in this way.”
University spokesman George Foulsham said it would be “premature” to comment because the resolution is not yet a campus policy.
Loverin said she expects to have feelings triggered by class discussion, etc., but trauma sufferers might not.
“Student voices so far have been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “If (faculty) do consider it, which I have high hopes for, it’s going to be a great forum for staff and faculty to present suggestions. We’ve started this dialogue, and people who weren’t aware of it now are.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.